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Street Racing Laws in California

What Are the Street Racing Laws in California?

Street racing of any kind is forbidden on California public roadways. Offenses include street racing, drag racing and speed contests. Violation of these rules allows for the offenses to be punished under Vehicle Code 23109, Vehicle Code 23103 and Penal Code 187.

What Are Speed Contests?

California Vehicle Code 23109: Speed Contest

What Are the Penalties for Street Racing?

Violation of California Vehicle Code 23109 will result in a misdemeanor charge. This will then lead to a jail time of 24 hours to 90 days; then fines ranging between $350 and $1000. The penalties will increase as the number of repeated convictions increases. If a violation of VC 23109 results in serious bodily injury, it may be charged as a felony.

A prosecutor must prove that the accused motorist was operating a motor vehicle on a public roadway while willfully engaging in a contest of speed. 

What Is the California Reckless Driving Law?

California Vehicle Code 23103: Reckless Driving Law

  • Driving with a willful disregard for the wellbeing of people or property.
    • Driving at a high rate of speed through a school zone
    • Burnouts
    • Doughnuts
    • Drag Racing

What Are the Penalties for Reckless Driving?

Punishments for violating VC 23103 include a 5 to 90 day stay in the county jail and a fine between $145 and $1000. Like VC 23109, if bodily injury is involved due to the violation, it may result in more serious consequences. Repeated offenses also result in more severe punishments.

The details of the case may lead to a street racing charge as reckless driving. The prosecutor must be able to show that the operator of the motor vehicle was driving with a “wanton disregard” for the wellbeing of people or property. This means that the operator of the vehicle was in full awareness of the risk of harm, and then proceeded to disregard that risk. 

What is Watson Murder?

Death as a Result of Street Racing: PC 187, Watson Murder

A death during a street racing incident is referred to People v. Watson, or in other words a “Watson Murder” case. Penal Code 187, Watson Murder, is a second degree murder charge. This usually is the result of a DUI. On the other hand, it can be applied to street racing if:

  • The accused was racing.
  • The accused has a previous DUI conviction .
  • The accused was under the influence while operating the vehicle.
  • The accused killed someone while operating the vehicle.

What Are the Penalties for Watson Murder?

Watson Murder can result in a 15 years to life in a California state prison, fines up to $10,000 and a strike under California’s “Three Strikes Laws.” A repeated “strike” offense may result in a doubled prison sentence.

Impound

When a person is arrested for any of the above offenses, the arresting officer has the authority to call in a tow truck to send the car to impound for a period of up to 30 days. The circumstances to receive the vehicle before the end of the 30 period period are as follows:

  • Impounded vehicle was a stolen vehicle.
  • The owner of the vehicle did not give permission to the person charged to use it.
  • The owner of the vehicle was not present during the alleged offense, and that they were oblivious to the intentions of the person operating their vehicle.
  • The vehicle was a rental.
  • The prosecutor changes the charges to less severe ones than VC 23109, 23103 or PC 187.

What Are the Possible Defenses for a Street Racing Violation?

Attorneys can defend against these charges by being able to prove that the defendant’s actions were not willful, there is not enough evidence to support that the defendant was contesting speed, the defendant was not driving the vehicle or the attorney can prove a necessity defense. A necessity defense means you are “guilty with an explanation.” For example, rushing to the hospital.

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